Distributing nearly 3 million needles a year to drug addicts, Vancouver, Canada boasts the largest needle exchange program in North America. The program was established in 1988– 16 years ago– to prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C (HCV). A new study finds that co-infection with these two deadly viruses is “shocking” with 16% of study participants co-infected at the beginning of the study and 15% more becoming co-infected over the course of the study. The researchers note it took a median of 3 years for seroconversion to secondary infection.
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) Jun 28 – Coinfection with Hepatitis C virus (HCV) and HIV is prevalent in a “shocking” number of young injection drug users, according to Canadian researchers.
In the June 1st issue of the Journal of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndromes, Dr. Carl L. Miller of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver and colleagues note that they sought to determine the incidence of such coinfections and to compare the socioeconomic characteristics of those infected.
The researchers used data from the Vancouver Injection Drug Users Study to identify 479 subjects aged 29 years or less. At baseline, 78 (16%) were coinfected and a further 45 (15%) became so over the course of the study.
Baseline infection was independently associated with factors including being female, being of aboriginal ancestry, being older and with the number of years of injecting.
Borrowing needles and injecting cocaine more than once a day were both among the factors associated with the time to secondary infection seroconversion. Having recently attended a methadone maintenance program was protective.
Across the categories of coinfected, monoinfected and HIV and HCV negative injection drug users, say the investigators, there were “clear trends for increasing proportions” of women, aboriginals, daily cocaine users and inhabitants of Vancouver’s 10-block injection drug use epicenter.
The researchers, who note that it took a median of 3 years for seroconversion to secondary infection, conclude that “appropriate public health interventions should be implemented immediately.”